In 1984, Cyndi Lauper released her second single ‘Time After Time’ from her debut album She’s So Unusual. The song is a gorgeous melodic ballad of lovers drifting apart, but will find themselves in time, even if it proves difficult. Lauper said in an interview she conceived the song after watching a film entitled Time After Time. As a film lover, I went on a journey to find out what film Ms. Lauper was talking about and, as a Cyndi Lauper fan, to say I have seen it. Thanks to the invention of Wikipedia, I finally get to cover this lost in time classic starring Malcolm McDowell of Clockwork Orange as H.G. Wells and the always terrifying David Warner as Jack the Ripper. By proxy, this week of Film A Week is all thanks to Cyndi Lauper who, after all these years, is still so unusual.
1979’s Time After Time has the aforementioned Wells trying to hunt Jack the Ripper in 1970’s San Francisco to make sure he does not repeat the attacks during that period. The film is the second film covered for Film A Week to deal with time travel (first being Back to the Future Part II) and is different in every way imaginable.
The film starts in 1893 in London with author Hebert George Wells (H.G. Wells for short) having dinner with some guests ready to show off his time machine. He proceeds to explain how the machine works all while his friend surgeon John Leslie Stevenson (David Warner) stumbles in. H.G. Wells tells them about the ‘non-return key’ designed to keep the machine in the same time period of the traveler and the ‘tranquil equalizer’ that allows the machine and the traveler to be on the same length of time. H.G. wishes to use this machine to see a perfect utopia of the future as he envisioned it. After H.G. presents his machine, a police constable comes to see if a murderer known as Jack the Ripper has come in to seek escape from his crime. They find a bloody bag that belongs to Stevenson and begin to see where he is. H.G. sees his time machine has gone and presumes Stevenson has escaped. Broken, H.G. Wells sits down and realizes he let a man loose and all has ended for him. The end.
Screw that, we have a good premise on our hands and we are not going to waste it. This is Time After Time after all.
H.G. hears the sound of the time machine return as H.G. has the non-return key and decides to find him in time to confront Stevenson in a psychedelic like time warp. H.G. arrives in 1979 in San Francisco at a museum that is having an exhibit on the influence of Wells. Wells steps out into the future and, as with every man or woman lost in time, is confused by the new concepts he sees before him for some comedic moments including not have the proper identification and the concept of fast food. To be fair, the mere concept of eating McDonald’s is hard to grasp.
Wells tries to go to banks to find the whereabouts of Stevenson since he assumes a proper Englishmen would exchange pounds for dollars. Yes, you heard that correctly, Jack the Ripper is a proper Englishmen. Wells finally finds the Chartered Bank of London (known today as Standard Chartered) and heads to the foreign currency exchange to come across employee Amy Robbins played by the always beautiful Mary Steenburgen. This is the first time travel film Steenburgen was in, the second being Back to the Future Part III as Clara Clayton. She directs Wells to the Hyatt Regency to find Stevenson and ends up in a round of Crazy Taxi thanks to reckless nature of a cab driver.
After that fast paced ride, Wells finds Stevenson and comes face to face with the madman. Stevenson tells Wells that his perfect utopian society does not exists, but what does is a violent world filled with war, poverty, hatred and bloodshed leading Stevenson to say his acts from years ago are amateur compared to the crimes committed by the people of that era. Even to this day, those lines still resonate as that violent perception has not changed. H.G. demands Stevenson come back to 1893 with him to confess to his crimes, but Stevenson refuses and quarrels with Wells in order to get the ‘non-return key’ back into his hands. After an interruption, he flees engaging with Wells on a foot chase were Stevenson is hit by a car.
Wells heads to a hospital only to hear that Stevenson is dead from his injuries, dspite seeing him get up and walk away from the accident. Wells leaves and stumbles across Amy once again who takes him out to lunch. H.G. and Amy hit it off with awkward conversations about making love, sex, and being a ‘detective’, his apparent ignorance to the history of San Fran, attending a screening of Exorcist IV (as if we needed more than one), and cooking dinner with each other all in the span of an afternoon. Amy is stricken by H.G. and wants to have her way with H.G., which he does not mind. Of course he does not mind, it is Mary Steenburgen. No one could deny that.
Meanwhile, Stevenson goes to town killing prostitutes and random women to fufill his desires and bloodlust. The reports of the grizzly killings start to appear as Wells wakes up the next morning after a night of passion with Amy. Wells stays as Amy heads off to work were she comes across the terrifying sight of David Warner, I mean, Stevenson. I am sorry, but David Warner is terrifying. I adore the man, yet something about him scares me. The man wanted to kill Leonardo DiCaprio. His lust to kill leading men is endless. Amy calls up Wells and says Stevenson is right in her sight. As they converse about exchanging money, she slips up and mentions the Hyatt Regency. Stevenson figures out her and Wells must be up to something and demands her to tell Wells to bring him the non-return key or suffer the consequences.
Wells decides to let Amy know the truth about his reasons of bein here and Amy dismisses him as a lunatic. Luckily, Wells takes her to the museum to prove he was not lying and goes about three days into the future. Amy is in disbelif until she sees a paper reporting that she was killed by the San Francisco Ripper. The San Francisco Ripper sounds like a really good sandwich and a really awful sex move rolled into one. They go back to prevent the forth victim before Amy’s own death. Wells calls the police under the pseudynem Sherlock Holmes to report the forth vitims murder, but they do not believe him because of the name. The forth victim is killed and the police find Wells and arrest him as he heads to Amy’s to prevent Stevenson from killing her.
At the station, the police interrogate Wells as it cuts to Amy resting in bed with Stevenson at the ready to kill. This scene alone is worth the watch as it is both dark in tone and perfects the thriller this film needed to be all along. The set Wells free after visiting the apartment and find the dismembered remains of Amy. Wells, once again, is at a lost until Stevenson calls him saying he has taken Amy hostage and killed Amy’s coworker. Wells heads to come face to face wih Stevenson once and for all.
Wells meets Stevenson in front of the time machine with Amy in his grasp with a knife to her throat. Wells is more concerned for Amy’s life and gives up the non-return key for him to head back leaving Wells in 1979. With Stevenson in the machine, Wels remember his ‘Deus Ex Machina’ tranquile equilizer and removes it causing Stevenson to be ‘derezzed’ (Those waiting for a Tron reference, there you go). Wells and Amy finally decide to head back to 1893 and marry. Amy is reluctant at first but decides to go along with it, living happily ever after.
Time After Time is exactly what it wanted to be, but not what it should have been. It is a sci-fi romp blending the elements of romance and comedy while trying to balance the thriller of Wells against the Ripper. The performances are great all around with the always stellar McDowell succeeding as a leading man and Warner as the intense and compelling Jack the Ripper. Steenburgen is great as well as a everyday woman who just happens to be involved in the mess. The comedic elements are fun and zany despite being used in practically every time travel feature.
The only true problem is the thriller elements. Personally, they were not strong enough, save for the interrogation scene and the hotel room look at the violence around them. If the film had more of those moments, I might have enjoyed it more and praised it. The romance also feels a bit rushed. It is not their fault, I just like my romances in film outside of fairy tales to be done over a long period of time, not two days, but the chemistry between them is fantastic. No wonder these two ended up married for nearly a decade. Noneheless, Time After Time is worth a watch alone more for its creative concept and performances rather than its thriller elements.
Next week, Film A Week celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with a musical like no other. There are no elaborate musical numbers or big production values, just music and the simple romance between a guy and a girl. Also, it is 100% filmed in Ireland. Film A Week falls slowly into the modern day classic and one of my personal all time favorites, Once.
Also, this review was written entirely on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2. A Film A Week first.
Friday, March 15th/Saturday, March 16th
Stinger of the Week